Miriam believes Jinggoy over Tuason on colleagues
MANILA, Philippines – Did socialite Ruby Tuason peddle pork barrel deals to other senators, as Senator Jinggoy Estrada claimed?
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said she tends to believe Estrada over pork barrel scam bagman Tuason, who denied approaching senators other than Estrada and Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile.
Santiago urged Estrada to name the other senators supposedly dealing with Tuason.
“Ms Tuason is one of the persons who have applied for state witness so she cannot be expected to reveal all, but only what she thinks will make the government approve her application for state witness, meaning to say she’ll be acquitted in the complaint sheet to be filed in the Sandiganbayan,” the senator said.
“I would tend to place my presumption [on] Senator Estrada. I wish he would do it as soon as possible,” Santiago said in a press briefing on Thursday, February 20.
Estrada made the claim on Tuesday, as he accused Senate blue ribbon committee chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III of prejudging the investigation and supposedly failing to ask Tuason about the other senators during the hearing last week.
Yet Santiago actually asked Tuason the question but the witness said it was only Estrada and Enrile, through his resigned chief of staff lawyer Jessica “Lucila” Gigi Reyes, whom she dealt with.
In the press conference, Santiago explained that what lends credence to Estrada's latest claim is that his prior revelation about the additional money the administration gave senators supposedly to convict former Chief Justice Renato Corona in the 2012 impeachment trial proved to be true. (READ: Jinggoy: P50M for each convict-Corona vote)
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the money was sourced from the administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) but denied it was a bribe.
“Let me say this for Senator Jinggoy, we, the public including myself, never knew about the DAP disbursements until he rose and delivered his privilege speech implying the administration had been bribing members of Congress to shape their decisions during the impeachment trial. So if he has arcane knowledge not known to other people, perhaps we should grant him the benefit of the doubt that there are other senators [who dealt with Tuason],” Santiago said.
“I really would like to know. I’m just curious by nature, sino kaya ang mga ito?” (Who are these senators?)
Santiago echoed the call of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV for Estrada to name the senators instead of just dropping hints.
“Because it places all of us under a cloud. It is not fair to those who are not implicated. It will also prove he’s in good faith when he makes general statements and backs it up with specific details. It will improve his credibility,” Santiago said.
Estrada, Enrile, and Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr face a plunder complaint for allegedly conniving with scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles to funnel their pork barrel funds to her fake non-governmental organizations. In return, the lawmakers supposedly got kickbacks amounting to millions of pesos.
A co-respondent in the case, Tuason returned from 6 months of hiding in the US to testify that she personally delivered bags of cash to Estrada and Reyes. She offered to turn state witness in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Tuason is facing a second plunder complaint over the diversion of the Malampaya fund.
‘More red flags about DAP’
Santiago also responded to a report of the Philippine Daily Inquirer that 4 senators received P370 million in DAP releases in the middle of the impeachment trial, contrary to the administration’s claim that the releases were made after the trial.
The report identified the senators as Estrada, Revilla, Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
Santiago said the senators should not have accepted the money, considering questions surrounding the constitutionality of DAP. The Supreme Court is deliberating the legality of DAP, which became controversial after Estrada’s speech in September 2013.
She reiterated that she had no knowledge of the DAP or other fund releases during or after the trial, being one of only 3 out of 23 senators who voted to acquit Corona.
“The mere fact there was no notice or information already raises a very red flag about the DAP. Why was it kept a secret? Why didn’t they tell me or other senators in the same situation? Why was information withheld?”
Santiago again argued that to establish bribery, it is irrelevant if the money was given before, during, or after the trial.
“The test for bribery is this: whether the amount was sufficient to make the person change his mind, if that amount was sufficient to remove that cold impartiality, then that is a bribe, whether it’s given before, during or after, to me does not matter.”
Her answer prompted reporters to ask whether or not the reported fund releases to Marcos can be considered a bribe. Marcos voted to acquit Corona, along with Santiago and former Senator Joker Arroyo.
“According to my test, no, because it was not sufficient [to change his mind],” she said.
Santiago quipped, “Maybe it was not enough. Bribery also has a certain calculus of its own. It must be sufficient to change his mind.”
In a statement, Marcos said the allegations were "rehashed." He said he never received any funds from DAP, and it would be "illogical" to reward him with the money because he voted to acquit Corona.
He repeated a previous statement that his endorsement letter to the National Livelihood Development Corporation was "falsified."
As for Estrada, his staff said he is still checking the records of his office.
‘Senators not required to be neutral’
Santiago also opposed Estrada and Sotto’s suggestion that the investigation of the senators involved in the scam be transferred from the Senate blue ribbon committee to the ethics committee.
“That’s what blue ribbon was created for. Ethics is just to maintain a certain degree of decorum and good behavior within the Senate but if you have something as hot as the pork barrel issue involving hundreds of millions and a lot of senators, it is best it’s given to blue ribbon,” she said.
On Estrada’s allegations of prejudgment, Santiago said the issue was whether or not senators are required to be as impartial as a judge.
The former trial court judge said that senators are not bound by the rules of court because an inquiry in aid of legislation is a political and not a judicial proceeding.
“There is no direct or cross-examination rule in this proceeding…. You can harass the witness. You can bully the witness. There can be no objection.”
“We are not required to have open minds. We can close our minds as fast as we want to because this is a political proceeding. Politics will always intrude.” – Rappler.com